Fish swimming and flow sensing

Date(s) - 09/15/2014
4:00 pm

James Liao, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, UF Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience


The simple sinusoidal motions of fish swimming, while soothing to observe, mask complex interactions of muscle physiology, neural control and fluid dynamics. My research investigates how fish can exploit the energy in their environment when they swim in unsteady flows such as a Karman vortex street.  In order to sense flow, fishes possess a unique lateral line system, which is composed of hair cell sensors (e.g. neuromasts) distributed over the body. Using larval zebrafish (Danio rerio), we performed electrophysiological recordings of lateral line neurons while mechanically deflecting individual neuromasts with a piezoelectric stimulator. This allowed us to isolate the physiology of the system from the hydrodynamics. We characterized the responses to ramp stimuli as well as sinusoidal and pulse stimuli. In order to better understand the hydrodynamics, we outfitted 3-D printed fish models with surgical-quality pressure sensors to monitor the pressure distributed over the body. Our findings advance the understanding of aquatic locomotion and sensing and have strong implications for inspiring the design of quiet and efficient autonomous underwater vehicles.